Migrants Clash With Mexican Authorities as They Attempt to Leave Amid Asylum Claim Backlog

Migrants have repeatedly clashed with Mexican authorities as they've attempted to leave the city of Tapachula to continue traveling north amid an enormous backlog of asylum cases, the Associated Press reported.

More than 77,000 people have applied for protected status in Mexico this year, 55,000 of them in Tapachula. Frustrated with a system that was already behind and further bogged down by the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of migrants have attempted to leave the city this month.

Mexican authorities have stopped the migrants each time they've attempted to leave, sometimes violently. Threatened with tariffs by former U.S. President Donald Trump if Mexico failed to slow the flow of migrants to the U.S. border, the country deployed its National Guard and more immigration agents in an attempt to contain migrants in the south.

As many of the migrants clashing with authorities are travelling as families, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has voiced frustration with the containment strategy, saying it's not sustainable.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Mexico Migrants Seek Asylum
Hundreds of Haitian and Central American migrants remain stranded in the main square of Tapachula, in search of solutions to their migratory situation, and in need of employment and food. Above, migrants, part of a caravan heading to the U.S., remain in the main square of Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico, on September 14, 2021. Claudio Cruz/AFP via Getty Images

Caribe Dorvil wakes up at 3 a.m. each day to prepare food to sell in a small street market with dozens of other Haitian migrants in this southern Mexican city.

Unable to find other work because they still lack legal status, Dorvil and Haitian migrants sell meals, soft drinks, clothing and offer services such as haircuts, manicures and tailoring under umbrellas in the street market.

Dorvil has requested asylum in Mexico, but the agency processing such requests is deeply backed up and has not had enough resources to deal with the exponential growth in asylum claims in recent years.

A couple years ago, migrants such as Dorvil might have quickly passed through Tapachula, historically a stop on one of the main migrant routes north. But more recently it has become a Kafkaesque quagmire of bureaucracy without exit for thousands.

On a recent morning, Dorvil prepared spaghetti with chicken and a small side salad, which she sold for about $2 in the market. Her usual 10-hour workday typically earns her $5 to $10.

That covers her rent—an apartment south of Tapachula she shares with nine other migrants—and just enough food to keep her going.

"You can't work [here], there are no papers, there is nothing," Dorvil said. "You have to sell to pay rent, to eat. The government doesn't help anyone."

Dorvil arrived in Mexico early this year. Like many Haitian migrants, she had lived in Chile for years after leaving her own country but set out when the economy stalled there during the pandemic.

She thought things would be better in Mexico but now says it is worse. Her husband and their two children remain in Chile but have been thinking of joining her in Mexico, which is why she has not joined any of the groups trying to leave Tapachula.

Dorvil has an initial appointment scheduled for her asylum request in mid-November. But the system is overwhelmed with applications and it's not unusual for someone to wait a year for their case to be processed.

Some in the Mexican government have proposed giving Haitians—the second-largest migrant group behind Hondurans—an option that would let them seek work outside the state of Chiapas, where Tapachula is located. But opposition remains.

Activist Luis Villagrán of the Center for Human Dignity estimates there could be as many as 100,000 migrants stuck in Tapachula, nearly one for every three of the city's residents. They are visible all over the city, though other groups estimate half that number.

Even for those who succeed in getting some legal status, Tapachula can seem inescapable.

Another Haitian migrant, who declined to give his name to avoid repercussions, showed a humanitarian visa he had obtained in Tapachula. With that in hand, he travelled north to the state of Tamaulipas, which borders Texas. But there a Mexican immigration agent stopped him and told him it was not valid. He was sent back to Tapachula.

"I've had this [visa] for a year and they sent me back here, I don't know why," he said during a recent protest against Mexico's immigration and asylum agencies to demand that migrants be allowed to travel freely.

Enrique Vidal, coordinator for Fray Matias de Cordoba Human Rights Center in Tapachula, said the policy of containment and the militarization of that policy has collapsed the immigration system.

"We have seen in recent days these massive mobilizations trying to leave Tapachula," Vidal said. "They are all people who have started some process with Mexican authorities and it is the Mexican authorities who have not followed through in guaranteeing a respectful and timely access for the people."

Haiti Asylum Backlog
Thousands of mostly Haitian migrants have been stuck in Tapachula, southern Mexico, many waiting for months and some up to a year for asylum requests to be processed. Above, Haitian migrants gather in a makeshift barbershop in Tapachula on September 3, 2021. Marco Ugarte, File/AP Photo